The Caitlin Clark Effect and the uncomfortable truth behind it

It’s no surprise that businesses line up like fans along the arena gates to get Caitlin Clark’s autograph. The former Iowa star is a transcendent talent who has proven she is as competent at breaking viewership records as she is at scoring points, drawing crowds at home and on the road and even drawing 17,000 spectators to an open practice during Final Four weekend. His WNBA jersey sold out within hours of being drafted No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever, and several teams moved upcoming games to larger venues to meet “unprecedented demand” for the Fever matches.

So it makes perfect sense that she was hired to pitch everything from home and auto insurance to performance drinks, trading cards to supermarket chains, automobiles to financial investment companies. She not only deserves every opportunity, but she also won all endorsement deals submitted to him, including a $28 million Nike deal that includes his own iconic shoe line, as reported Athleticism.


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That being said, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that her appeal as an influencer is based solely on basketball, because that’s not the case. To pretend otherwise is an affront to history and reality. Clark’s appeal to local and national businesses is heightened by the fact that she is a white woman who has dominated a sport considered predominantly black; a heterosexual woman who joins a league with a large population of LGBTQ+ players; and someone who comes from the heartland of America, where residents often feel their beliefs and values ​​are ignored or disrespected by the country’s geographic boundaries.

Because sport and society are built from the same fabric, it is impossible to separate them. This is why it’s crazy to act like basketball is the only thing fueling the Caitlin Clark Effect. The most important thing? Yes. But that’s not the only thing.

Some will try to turn these words into a disparagement of Clark or his accomplishments. They are not. She is a tremendous player and, by all accounts, a quality human being. But more than one thing can be true at the same time, especially when it comes to why one actor is seen as a better brand ambassador than someone else. Searching for a perspective on the topic took me back to an interview I did last month with Flora Kelly, vice president of research for ESPN.

On the eve of the Women’s Final Four, I was intrigued by the question of which was the biggest TV draw: a great player or a great team? Kelly acknowledged the importance of a generational talent like Clark and how his presence alone can push viewership to record levels, but she also pointed out that other factors can push viewership well over the roof and in the stratosphere. Factors such as the legacy of a franchise or program, rivalries between a team or players, and cultural or societal elements that create viral moments.

“We’re in a unique moment where social media can really turn and create a kind of hyper-awareness around these athletes, causing a moment that goes beyond sports,” Kelly said at the time. “But there are so many other factors that people just flat out ignore and just make her a Caitlin Clark. There are a lot of stories around her that lift her up. Maybe she’s not the one. Chicken or the egg Maybe it’s both.

The racial component when talking about brand ambassadors can make people uncomfortable, but it’s a conversation worth considering. Sue Bird, white and gay and one of the legends of women’s basketball, spoke about it in 2020 when discussing the league’s inability at the time to capture the nation’s attention in the same way the team did United States women’s national soccer team had done it.

“Even though we are female athletes playing at a high level, our worlds, you know, the football world and the basketball world are totally different,” she said. “And to be frank, that’s the demographic of who plays. The football players are usually pretty little white girls, while the WNBA players – we are all shapes and sizes…lots of black, gay, and tall women. … There may be an intimidation factor and people are quick to judge it and downplay it.”

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University of Connecticut star guard Paige Bueckers echoed similar sentiments the following year when accepting the ESPY for best college athlete in women’s sports. She said 80 percent of the WNBA playoff awards were won that season by black players, but they received half the media coverage of white athletes.

“With the light I have now as a white woman leading a sport that is Black-run and celebrated here, I want to shine a light on Black women,” she said. “They don’t get the media coverage they deserve. They have given so much to the sport, the community and society as a whole and their value is undeniable.

His words were particularly poignant in 2023, when nine of the 10 WNBA All-Star Game starters were Black, but Sabrina Ionescu, a reserve guard who happens to be white, was selected as the cover athlete for NBA2K24. Ionescu was a college icon at Oregon, where she set the NCAA record for triple-doubles, but she had yet to reach that professional status. So NBA2K24’s decision to leave out several dominant Black players — including A’Ja Wilson and Jonquel Jones, frontcourt stars who won league MVP honors in 2020, 2021 and 2023 — was particularly striking. But, like Clark, she checked particular boxes that others didn’t check as a straight white player.

The topic of sexual orientation and identity is as old as the WNBA itself due to the large percentage of LGBTQ+ players in the league. The fact is that the league struggled in its early days to find the right balance between promoting inclusiveness and not alienating the broader community.

Initially, it tended to feature promotional ads of married players with children, even though many of its players were not heterosexual. Sue Wicks, a member of the WNBA’s first draft pick who in 2002 became the league’s first openly gay active player, said she felt boxed in while the league tried to find the right message.

“It always irritated me, having someone say to me, ‘You can’t say you’re gay,'” she said. Athleticism in 2020.

The league, which is the most inclusive in professional sports today, has since progressed light years even if society as a whole has not progressed. In the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas cited three other decisions he would like to see the court adopt in the near future, each of which was instrumental in opening the path to national same-sex marriage rights. The topic of sexual orientation and identity remains an issue for some, which is why Clark might be viewed even more favorably as an influencer.

This is not a knock against him personally or an insult to his sublime basketball skills. It’s a nod to reality: being a brand ambassador at her level isn’t just a commentary on a person’s athletic abilities. It also reflects society’s impact on who gets the biggest bags.

(Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

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